Film Review – Long Shot
On the surface, Long Shot (2019) has similarities to a previous Seth Rogen starring vehicle, Knocked Up (2007). In both, Rogen’s character falls in love with a self-made woman who finds something endearing under his schlubby exterior. Of course, both are riddled with the same kind of dirty, obscene humor. But what Long Shot offers is a surprisingly smart and clever insight into politics, gender inequality, and personal integrity. Given that this is all wrapped up in a raunchy romantic comedy is a feat well achieved.
This is a tighter, more controlled narrative compared to other mainstream comedies. Sometimes, filmmakers tend to let their performers loose with improvisation, causing scenes to drag out way longer than they should. The direction (Jonathan Levine) and writing (Dan Sterling, Liz Hannah) prevents these moments from overstaying their welcome. Although the runtime is a full two hours long, the pacing and energy maintains a forward momentum, never allowing the material to dip into a crawl.
Rogen plays Fred Flarksy, an opinionated, left wing political journalist whose talent on the page is hampered by his tendency to spout off at the mouth. When his paper is bought out by a right-wing conglomerate, Fred has no option but to resign and work as a free agent. After a series of events involving a charity function and Boyz II Men, Fred reunites with his childhood crush, Charlotte (Charlize Theron) who – as it so happens – is now the U.S. Secretary of State who also has her sights set on a presidential run. Knowing Fred and recognizing his gifts as a writer, Charlotte hires him to accompany her on an international tour as her speechwriter. One thing leads to another, and soon Fred and Charlotte are sharing more than just notes, if you catch my drift.
One of the nice touches of Long Shot is how Rogen and Theron are represented as co-leads. Where Fred has to learn to compromise his strong political beliefs in order to write speeches people will remember, Charlotte has to cope with all the pressures of being a woman playing a political game. Charlotte is the more interesting character, and Theron does an excellent job of navigating the differing comedic and dramatic arenas. This is a woman who has gained a substantial position through hard work and determination, accomplished in a deeply misogynistic world. She has to deal with an imbecile of a sitting President (Bob Odenkirk, in a forgettable role), political adversaries, and a media that would rather talk about what she’s wearing than her actual policies. Levine, Sterling, and Hannah inject these themes without ever coming across as preachy or over idealistic. We can laugh at a punchline and then later consider what the narrative was actually trying to say.
This is a good, but not great film. It too often relies on dumb slapstick to garner a laugh. I don’t know why, but there has been a long running joke involving Rogen violently falling down (it also happens throughout both Neighbors and its sequel). These instances are neither funny nor clever, but just plain stupid. Another scene has a drugged-up Charlotte trying to stop an international crisis. How often have we seen someone – either high or drunk – make a complete fool of themselves in front of others? It’s lowbrow humor at its worst. We also have another unfortunate sequence featuring body fluid. I think I’ll stop right here and not describe it much further, I want to be able to keep my lunch down.
The saving grace partly comes from the theming brought by the writing and directing, but on a bigger level is the chemistry between Rogen and Theron. When they have a chance to sit back and share their feelings, hopes, and dreams, that’s where the narrative really shines. One may argue that this is simply a wish fulfillment scenario where an unremarkable guy and a beautiful woman fall in love, but that’s being unfair to both of them. Fred may dress in run down sneakers, a windbreaker, and a baseball cap that doesn’t quite fit, but he’s also smart, well informed, and – through his interaction with Charlotte – willing to open up and listen to other viewpoints. And while Theron is obviously very attractive, what we learn about Charlotte goes beyond simple aesthetics. The plot gives ample opportunity for us to understand how her passion for public service started at an early age, and how difficult it is for her to compromise that passion for the purpose of a presidential bid. Both Fred and Charlotte may appear to be complete opposites, but by the end we discover that they exist on a mutual playing field.
I dug Long Shot, for the most part. The central relationship feels authentic, the topics are timely, and there’s plenty of laughs to be had. This was entertaining enough, and sometimes that’s all you really need.